DENVER -- The most glaring flaw in Trevor Story's game last season made him an offensive liability, but the Rockies' All-Star shortstop has combated the issue with a simplistic answer that has him flirting with a .300 season.
Story's strikeouts, a well-chronicled issue through his first two seasons, have dropped drastically this year, from a 34.4 percent rate to 25.6 percent, which is, in part, reflective of a reconstructed approach, mentally and mechanically.
Story, who is hitting .291/.347/.538, has created more balance in his weight distribution and tempered his head movement, resulting in a cleaner swing that has led to more balls in play. But perhaps most simply, Story isn't finding himself in as many two-strike counts -- because he's not letting pitchers take him that deep.
As part of a club-wide approach to being aggressive early in counts, Story has been feasting in 0-0 counts, hitting .487, better than any count he's found himself in. League-wide, hitters are more productive on the first pitch -- it's when pitchers are typically most vulnerable because they will throw in the zone, attempting to get ahead immediately -- and Story has been one of the Majors' best hitters in this area, while doing most of his damage early. Seven of his 26 homers have come on the first pitch.
Highest slugging percentage in 0-0 counts, 2018
Min. 30 plate appearances, decided in 0-0 counts (222 hitters)
Going into Wednesday's games
- Christian Yelich: 1.093
- Bryce Harper: 1.089
- J.D. Martinez: 1.068
- Nelson Cruz: 1.047
- Joey Gallo: 1.000
- Christian Villanueva: .976
7. Trevor Story: .962
But the most noticeable improvement on the first pitch for Story is that his whiff rate (misses against total swings) has dropped substantially, down to 19.5 percent, which has led to him putting far more balls in play on the first pitch: 78 total, 13th-most in MLB, and up from 52 over the 2017 season and 27 in '16.
Story's BA | SLG | Whiff rate in 0-0 counts
2016: .400 | .920 | 20.2 percent
2017: .462 | .827 | 34.1 percent
2018: .487 | .962 | 19.5 percent
"His strikeouts have cut down because he's done a better job not missing pitches earlier in the at-bat," Rockies assistant hitting coach Jeff Salazar said.
Story said his aggressiveness on the first pitch is situational, but if there's something in the zone early, it's more beneficial to hack than not, he said. Half of the pitches that Story sees in 0-0 counts are in the strike zone, and he's swinging at 52.5 percent of those, substantially up from the 29.9 percent rate he showed as a rookie in 2016.
"The numbers are good on the first pitch," Story said. "Sometimes it just puts you in a different mindset when you go up there ready to hit from pitch one. Sometimes you know if you're feeling really good, you can almost take a strike and see how they're going to pitch to you. You see a first-pitch breaking ball in the dirt or something and you'll be up 1-0. It's all situational."
The Rockies also suggest that Story's blossoming success in 0-0 counts could have a strong correlation to another area in which he's shown drastic improvement (and perhaps a more vital one): effectiveness against secondary pitches.
Story's BA | SLG | wOBA vs. breaking/offspeed pitches
2016: .227 | .541 | .342
2017: .202 | .374 | .267
2018: .277 | .562 | .366
Story's success against fastballs has remained above average, and the Rockies encouraged him to play to his strength there. The difference this season is that Story has focused more on aligning his bat path to strike fastballs more out front, aiming to dispense the ball to center. By doing so, Story has created more room for error and has been able to better identify secondary pitches.
"With Trevor, it was always reminding him to stay on the fastball, staying on time with the fastball," Salazar said. "If a hitter can stay on time with the fastball, the hittable offspeed pitches are left up. If they're a sharp slider, breaking ball, if you're staying on the fastball, because it's so different, that hard breaking ball, it's easier to take."
"If you're controlling your body like Trevor, because he's minimizing some of his movements, he can be in control and he can stay on top of the fastball and then still be in position for an offspeed pitch that's left up in the zone."
The overhaul to Story's approach has been as mental as anything. His ability crush mistake pitches is what got him to the Majors, but his meteroric (and historical) rise as a rookie admittedly created a feast-or-famine approach.
"I started off really hot, hitting a lot of home runs and stuff, and then it's not easy to flip that switch to realize what you're doing," Story said.
It took longer than he'd anticipated, and no overhaul at the Major League level is easy, but the Rockies believe that by Story supplementing a more disciplined attitude with his already elite power at a skill position, they may have found a sustainable formula.